Battle: Peter Ryan vs Mark Hillary

December 20, 2021  |  Peter Ryan
This is the third part in our series where experts talk about the results of 2021 and make predictions for the next year. Peter Ryan and Mark Hillary discuss changes in the relationships between customers and brands, inspired by new technologies.

Peter: Mark, I think one of the things that we’ve had the chance to observe, as long as we’ve been working in the CX space, and both of us go back nearly two decades, is the fact that technology has had a constant level of evolution. But I truly believe that we’ve not seen the evolution in CX technology like we’ve seen over the course of the past couple of years. Now some people might say that that was fueled by the pandemic. I would argue that this trend was happening even before. You know, it’s a case that technology has just been snowballing the improvements, have been snowballing the innovation, has been snowballing. And you know, I think back to the time I used to write reports as an analyst when I started in this game. Reports would have a shelf life of 18 to 24 months. Now the rate technology is changing in CX to have a shelf life of 18 to 24 weeks.

Mark: Yeah, I would agree. And I think that what’s interesting is that there’s no longer a really strong differentiation between what people would say IT and general technology developments, and CX. And in fact, I think that what you’re often seeing is the point of interaction between brands and their customers. That’s where all the most interesting technology is actually being tested out. And so, this is where there are real developments around: cloud, IoT, 5G technologies, using sensors, digital twins – all this kind of stuff. And I think that you just have to look at the way that people interact with companies, now compared to even five years ago. You know, if you bought a laptop, or a phone, or a TV and then you had a problem with it, then you would get on the phone and you’d ring up Sony or Toshiba, or whichever company that manufactured the TV, and you would talk to them. Now, what’s the first thing you do? You say: “Alexa, how do I fix this television?” Or you look at your phone and search Google. Or you go to the brand and there is a chatbot there to help you, which can answer maybe 80 or 90 of the most common problems.

So by the time you ever get through to a human at that company and start talking to them, you know you’re only ever talking to somebody because Google couldn’t answer your customer support questions and I think that this is a massive difference in not only the supporting technologies but the way that companies need to think about that interaction with their customers as well. Because all those old days of a customer service agent reading a script – that’s got to be in the history books now.

Peter: Well, it’s got to be in the history books and customers just won’t tolerate it. And I think, you’re right about the interface and how a customer can navigate an issue that they might have, whether it’s a break-fix issue with the TV set, whether it’s a question about an airline ticket, whether it might be a question about a hydro bill but the reality is the technology in CX is facilitating so much more than it was even four or five years ago. And I think it’s come on so fast we don’t really take into account how many of these changes have actually occurred. But equally, I think an important question and you raise the issue about virtual assistants like Alexa or even Siri. I think about elements such as the overuse of technology and now people being warned about how much time they’re using smartphones or devices. At what point does the technology overtake the need for good CX? At what point does the technology become too much of the priority for an organization and the CX gets left behind?

Mark: I think, it depends, because there are ways in which the tech can help and can reduce your exposure to problems and stress and, perhaps, that will come when we can actually rely on tools like Siri or Alexa to handle the problem. So instead of just saying “Siri, can you put me in touch with Apple customer support?”, you should be able to say “Siri, I need to return that iPhone that was just delivered to my home today. Can you go and arrange it?” And almost allowing it to act as an agent on your behalf and fix the problem, I think that then you’ll start seeing a big advantage of the technology being able to take on and perform specific tasks as well.

Peter: And one thing that I think is really encouraging is the fact that when we think about technology in the CX perspective, a lot of it has been operations-driven or it’s been done to try and drive efficiencies. But now, a very encouraging element that I think we’re seeing going into 2022 is how technology can actually empower the people on the front lines. Whether it’s somebody in a shop, whether it’s somebody on the telephone, whether it’s somebody behind a keyboard that’s handling a digital interaction. To my mind, this is probably one of the biggest shifts in mindset that we’ve seen the CX industry take over the course of the past three or four years. Now the discussion is truly revolving around what can be done to make sure that an agent can better position a product or a service to a consumer, what can be done to make sure that they have the information to hand in front of them using an AI-driven solution so that they don’t have to go looking and keep somebody on hold or even keep talking to them while they look up the information. That’s going to drive better results, that’s going to drive better job satisfaction, that’s going to drive lower levels of attrition. And what it’s going to do is it’s going to increase the level of engagement between the brand and the buyer. To my mind, that’s probably the biggest structural fundamental change we’ve seen in a long time in this space.

Mark: Yeah, and I think that to demonstrate that you can look at a brand like Ikea. Because they’re well known for their vast shops filled with furniture all over the world. But over 80 percent of all their sales start online, either on the app or on the website, because people go online to research stuff they want to buy these days and, you know, nobody goes walking around the shops just browsing and randomly picking out a sofa anymore.

So people will have already done some research, they would have started that journey online. If they do into a shop, then it’s to be able to compare and see stuff and touch it in person before finally making the purchase. But to your point, there is about blending the tech with the kind of experiential quality of a real store. You know, if you then go up to an assistant and say: “That red sofa over there, do you have that in stock?” And then they just shrug their shoulders and say “well, I don’t know”. Rather than the alternative would be pulling out an iPad, checking the stock, and saying: “We can get that to your home by tomorrow”. That’s where you can really blend the tech, the operations, and the kind of front-end experience as well.

Peter: The evolution we’re talking about here, as you’re discussing that blending really hits home for me, and you know, I go back to my example. I always like to use going on vacation, picking out a vacation destination. You know, 10 years ago it wouldn’t be unheard of to go to a local travel agent and pick up a brochure or one of those glossy magazines talking about what a great resort you could go to in this destination or another one.

Nobody would do that anymore. In fact, now I think that people are very suspicious of the photos that they see on different online booking agencies. Yet, if you’re able to engage with somebody and be able to provide that experiential interface that’s going to show them what it’s like when they arrive at a resort, when they walk into the lobby, what it’s going to look like when they get into their room using these types of different technologies and these different types of almost engagement interfaces – that takes things to a whole new level and it will really benefit the organizations that are able to implement this technology sooner rather than later.

Mark: Yeah, that’s a great opportunity for capturing the customer when they have the intent to purchase something. And that might not be nine to five Monday to Friday. We had Leanne Rollins on the CX files podcast about a month ago and she was talking about chatbots. Normally, when you talk about chatbots, everybody groans and just says: “Oh they never work, I get stuck, I can’t talk to the bot.” But she was talking about a travel company, it kind of the same sort of thing you were talking about, where you’re looking at some images online, and you’re wondering, should I book that place or not, is it really as good as it looks. But the chatbot can pop up and say: “Okay, it looks like you’re interested in Greece, you know there any specific places, any islands that you might be interested in?” And then taking them through a journey, gathering information about where they’re interested in going when they’re interested in traveling. But then at the end, instead of pretending, the chatbot can answer all the questions, then saying “I’m going to hand over to a human now, do you want to talk to a human immediately or can we schedule a call for tomorrow morning?” And then, handing all of that captured information onto a human travel advisor that could actually have a proper conversation with the customer.

Peter: Yeah, no questions about it. And the future will benefit those who are willing to embrace these technologies that are in the offing. A lot of these technologies are already in a position to be deployed and to be deployed to a very high standard. One of the things that, I think, is really important for the CX element is the fact that whereas I think a lot of organizations would have been reticent a few years ago to make these investments that did take the chance. Now there seems to be a lot more boldness and, you know, it goes back to that great line from “Only fools and horses” – “He who dares wins”. And in this case, it’s which company dares will win. And I think that we’re definitely at that point of inflection.

Mark: Yeah, and I think that what we’re seeing is a lot of the technologies that are talked about as futuristic. You know, IoT, 5G, Metaverse. We’re starting to see people creating real use cases for this stuff and demonstrating. You know you can do something like… roll out 5G sensors in your factory, because it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to be able to monitor everything, every pump, every air conditioning unit, and then go and maintain those items as they need maintenance, rather than having a weekly scheduled visit to go and check everything in the factory. There are areas where you can get direct benefits. And you know, and this is exactly what we’ve seen in the CX space as well. If you can improve the connection with your customers through the use of some of these technologies, then you end up with happier customers and more revenue.

Peter: No arguments on my side.

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